Simon’s Seat (485m) and Lord’s Seat (470m) loom above the southern end of Upper Wharfedale, two gritstone outcrops amid boggy, upland heather moor. They’re part of the Bolton Abbey estate so you need to be aware of local access restrictions during the shooting season.
From the footbridge near the Cavendish pavilion, Ix and I head up the steep, tarmac lane toward Bolton Park Farm. As we crest up to the farm, the permissive path curves to the east and then northeast and we are met by the sharp, sweet smell of silage. There’s a pewter sky overhead and, once clear of the trees and buildings, we’re in the teeth of the wind. The track climbs through improved pasture and we are surrounded by sheep and lambs. Gambolling seems to be off the agenda in this weather. At the top of this field we encounter my new bête noir – the cattle grid – and I skitter over as nimbly as I can at present.
We continue due north next to Stead Dike until the track forks; the north branch goes to Broadshawe and we veer east northeast and then northeast through rough heather-moorland, on a well-maintained 4×4 track. Where it forks once more, we take the left hand fork and continue until we hit a drystone wall running northwest. We follow the wall downhill to White Wham Beck, were we pause for a drink in a shooting hut. Ix produces a flask like a bright blue torpedo. Despite being visible from space, it apparently holds only three cups of tea. Until we are out of the wind, we don’t realise just how strong and cold it is. I slip on my belay jacket to stay warm. The weather’s not doing much for the birdlife either. An occasional red grouse whirs low over the heather like a high velocity frisbee, but the pipits/wagtails/wheatears I might usually expect here are absent.
We gird ourselves to return to the wind. There’s a long, steady pull uphill, following the wall after a little wiggle out into the heather. I find this very tiring on my right ankle, but it’s easy going once we rejoin the vehicle track. Barden Fell spreads to the west of us, punctuated by a couple of vehicle tracks and striking crowns of gritstone.
Bilberries (or possibly myrtle) grow in the lee of the wall, hugging the ground. On the far side, the heather appears as a patchwork of squares in various stages of growth where its been managed for grouse – it’s actually off the edge of OS2 and I’ve never explored the moorland to the east. To the west, the Hen Stones reach up out of the peat. Beyond them, and closer to the track, Lord’s Seat emerges from the ground, a half-submerged gritstone fist. The track here is flagged and we make swift progress as the fell levels out. Last time I was here, this path was basically a linear bog – somebody (presumably the estate) has gone to a lot of effort. We crouch under Simon’s Seat crags to eat our lunch in what shelter we can find. A brief and (in my case) very cautious scramble takes us up the side of the crags to the trig point. The view is spectacular, looking over a mosaic of fields and moors to Parcevall Hall, Troller’s Gill and possibly the most Yorkshire-named of all water bodies – Grimwith Reservoir (it’s worth a visit if you enjoy being blown over by a wind that’s been running downhill since the Ural Mountains).
The descent starts with a coiling track through rocks that, although a gentle incline, plays havoc with my ankle. I deploy my trekking pole rather late in the proceedings and grin and bear it. Above the confluence of streams at Great Agill Head, we join a 4×4 track and turn south southeast alongside Great Agill Beck. This is one of those tracks where the surface keeps sliding under your feet and I am very glad of my pole. Eventually we dip through a commercial pine plantation and drop down into the Valley of Desolation. In all honesty, it’s really rather lovely – the name comes from damage done by a storm in 1826, damage that has long been repaired. If you’re so-minded, you could turn north(ish) up Sheepshaw Beck and there’s a really lovely waterfall under which I once proposed. A pretty, little wind through some deciduous woodland takes us down to some pasture containing (amongst other cattle) the most magnificent white cow – she’s the whitest thing I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure if she’s a British white or a Charolais – wish I’d taken a picture now. From what I remember of her musculature, she looked distinctly beef rather than dairy, but beyond that, I am clueless. We exit the pasture into bluebell woods and return to the car.
In my pack (a Macpac Amp 25): Rab Demand pullover, Rab Bergan pants, Montane Flux jacket, OS OL Sheet 2, Silva mirror-sighting compass, Julbo sunglasses, Benchmade Presidio lock-knife, Marmot XT gloves, Petzl Tikka Plus 2 headtorch, Highgear AltiTech 2 altimeter, iPhone, coffee, sandwiches (skirt steak, rocket, tomato and mustard, since you ask), Leki Makalu trekking pole. I wore Garmont Vetta Mnt boots, Montane Super Terra pants, Klättermusen Vidblåin smock,Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap, a Buff and some long-sleeved Berghuas base layer.